News 31 May 13

New Referendum Law Divides Romania

Opposition MPs and experts have criticised plans to lower the tournout needed for a referendum to pass in Romania, saying the change is designed purely to make life easier for the government parties.

Marian Chiriac

A decision by parliament that in future only 30 per cent of eligible voters will need to participate in a referendum for it to be valid has drawn criticism from experts and opposition MPs who say it will undermine democracy.

Romania’s lower chamber, the Camera Deputatilor, on Wednesday cut the required turnout for a referendum to pass from 50 per cent to a third of all voters.

The new law was passed with support from the ruling coalition, the centre-left Social Democratic Union, USL, which holds 70 per cent of seats in parliament.

Some experts call the new ruling undemocratic. "Referenda are the only way for the nation to express a veto on decisions taken by the political elite," political analyst Ion Stanomir said.

"As a result, lowering the number of votes needed for a referendum to pass blunts the instrument, which may prove dangerous. Parties will have no problem mobilising a relatively small part of the population to ratify measures that have already been decided on,” he added.

For its part, the opposition said it will file a complaint to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that parliament did not have time to debate the law and that the vote was rushed through by the USL.

“The new law is just designed to make it easier for the ruling party to change the constitution. Such a measure is not democratic,” Adriana Saftoiu, from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, PDL, said.

Romania plans to modify the country’s constitution by the end of this year.

Among the main changes envisaged by USL is revising the role of the President and the mechanism by which the President nominates the Prime Minister.

Further changes need to tackle the country’s administrative organization, to decentralise power and help Romania attract more European funds.

Insufficient voter turnout is a constant problem in Romania. Last year, a USL attempt to impeach their political rival, President Traian Basescu, was not validated by the Constitutional Court as the turnout was only 46 per cent.

The USL’s battles with the President have caused concern in Brussels about Romania’s commitment to the rule of law.

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